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Overall Rating

Awesome: 6.67%
Worth A Look: 6.67%
Pretty Bad40%
Total Crap: 6.67%

2 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Small Ball: A Little League Story
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by Erik Childress

"The Sixth-Inning Stretch"
3 stars

Little league has been portrayed as one of the purest forms of sports and family interaction as well as one of the most scandalous in recent years. Daniel Coyle documented some of it in his book, Hardball: A Season In The Projects. Remember Danny Almonte, the oldest 12-year old in the world at 14? Such topics would make fascinating documentaries since dirt and baseball go hand-in-hand. But a year after the Almonte age decrease, a much sweeter story was taking place fifty miles from San Francisco in the town of Aptos, CA.

Since 1995, a group of kids had played together as a team. We see footage of their tee-ball years and the fun of wiffle play in the streets. Like any tight family unit as this bunch are, their dream is to play in the National Little League World Series. To get there, one only has to pass 6400 teams nationwide competing in four tournaments over the course of six weeks. If you lose two games in any tournament, you go home.

With their (believe it or not) Wang Chung motto (“Everybody have fun tonight, Everybody Wang Chung tonight”), the Aptos All-Stars hit the road in search of the championship. They are their own dream team and a talented bunch of players to boot. The team’s manager is volunteer Dave Anderson, a semiconductor salesman and their pitching coach is retired major leaguer, Mark Eichhorn, both of whose sons play for the team. Eichhorn has a world series ring with the ’93 Toronto Blue Jays and there’s a humorous moment as it seems the passing of the torch may be coming full circle to his child now as he holds up his past jerseys; the final one worded in Japanese.

Yogi Berra said that “little league is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the street.” Too true perhaps as we all know how parents can vicariously project success (and failure) onto their kids. Despite an early indication that any child not on the team may be playing second fiddle on the homefront, the Aptos parents are a truly loving bunch, willing to lay down the increasing travel expenses for their children. They stress that fun aspect of the game to alleviate any pressure, which is shown to affect mom and dad more than the kids.

In what must be some twisted universal truth, the most pressure any child can feel is playing for their dad and vice versa in how to manage said youngster. In an upsetting moment right out of anyone’s familiar un-bonding experience, Coach Anderson tries to calm down his frustrated son and ends up nearly going Vic Morrow on him. The irony of his mantra “good sportsmanship no matter what we do” is not lost afterwards.

Beyond the individual anxiety, the baseball games seen in the film recall all the energy and chewed nails of sitting in the bleachers and hanging on every pitch. “C’mon, reward him,” we hear Anderson say during one grueling contest of foul balls. It’s great to see these kids play and even greater to be with them for those first steps onto a major league ballpark. How would you like to be six-foot tall, 12-year old Tyler Raymond and be referred to as “their Dave Kingman?”

What’s a little disappointing about the documentary is that it does skew a little more towards the adults. We get to hear a lot from the folks, but don’t get to know many of the kids as individuals. The senior Eichhorn is more comfortable giving a hug to his son than junior is receiving it on camera. There’s something to be said for shyness, I suppose, and they appear more comfortable talking to Max Kellerman. No, not the former host of ESPN’s Around the Horn but a middle-school reporter who looks younger than they do.

What’s very disappointing is the anti-climactic road we’re led up to. Without spoiling anything for those who don’t know the fate of the Aptos All-Stars, we’re treated to a sports moment as foot-stomping and crowd-pumping as anything we’ve seen as late. As an audience we’re ready to go the distance, probably even now singing out loud the words ourselves as Wang Chung blasts on the soundtrack. Everything is in place for the seat-clenching bottom-of-the-ninth (or in this case, sixth-inning) drama, only to be told by the narrator how it all turns out. No drama. No suspense. Just three-and-out.

“There are things about little league that kids remember for the rest of their lives,” says one parent and ain’t it the truth. Whether that league involves baseball, basketball or soccer, every kid has their memories. I know I certainly do and it was great to re-live a few through the kids of Aptos. It was wonderful to applaud their success and even wave off another ump after a miserable call. It’d be great to revisit this team for another season and see how far they can take each other. Maybe we’ll get to know ‘em a little better. Or maybe we’ll just get to enjoy some good old fashioned, scandal-free baseball.

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originally posted: 03/12/04 09:19:14
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2004 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/06/04 karen really enjoyed's fluff, that's all it's meant to be. 4 stars
6/08/04 Mike Viall Well done, authentic 5 stars
3/15/04 Boombah Baby I hated these people too. 1 stars
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Directed by
  Andrew Kolker
  Louis Alvarez

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